The Last Lone Tree

October 24, 2023

Did you know:

Big and red ‘Tom Thomson’s Canoe’ sits overlooking the Gardiner Expressway. This public artwork created by Douglas Coupland is viewed by millions of motorists a year.

Tom Thomson is considered an “unofficial” but highly influential member of the Canadian landscape painters known as the Group of Seven. An avid outdoors person, Tom died mysteriously by drowning on a canoe trip in 1917 before the Group’s official founding.

His painting “The Jack Pine,” which features a lone tree against a rugged landscape, is considered an iconic image of Canadian art and is one of the country’s most widely recognized and reproduced artworks.

A condominium suite seems like the last place a drowned ghost would end up, especially just shy of 100 years after he disappeared into the murky depths of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park.

But here Tom had been, squelching through the halls of a strange, shiny dwelling in the sky. Full of strange new people, loud electronic beeps and not a tall tree in sight, leaving a trail of lake water wherever he went.

Lonely, uninspired, with a bump on his head that seemed to have ached for a century, Tom was certainly not looking for a companion when he found one in Fatima — a retiree with apparent nerves of steel and an annual pass holder to the AGO.

Although initially star-stuck by the artist, Fatima sensed his unhappiness, and from her window, she tried to inspire Tom with the views below. Taking in the sunrise over the Gardiner, raving over his brief “dog park pet portrait” period, and distracting him from the audacity of the existence of that damn red canoe.

Nothing seemed to work. Until… one evening, she heard a gasp from her living room. She leapt out of bed, only to find Tom staring in awe, as the sun set, the night fell, and the CN Tower lit up before him for the very first time. 

The light, the shadow, the stark silhouette of the metallic giant poked through his crabbiness— Tom immediately began to paint. When he finished one piece, he started the next. And the next. And the next. 

Overrun by his feverish painting spree Fatima was soon hosting Thursday evening salons for her Wednesday morning walking group — a Group of 9 — just to exhibit his new work, and possibly sell a few to cover his rent and the cost of a much-needed carpet cleaner.

But the money didn’t matter to Tom. Neither did the mystery of his confusing tie to this strange modern place by that well-intentioned piece of public art.

Despite death, displacement, and utter discombobulation — Tom had managed to find his last, lone tree.